Growth hormone upregulates melanocyte-inducing transcription factor expression and activity via JAK2-STAT5 and SRC signaling in GH receptor-positive human melanoma

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© 2019 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. Growth hormone (GH) facilitates therapy resistance in the cancers of breast, colon, endometrium, and melanoma. The GH-stimulated pathways responsible for this resistance were identified as suppression of apoptosis, induction of epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT), and upregulated drug efflux by increased expression of ATP-binding cassette containing multidrug efflux pumps (ABC-transporters). In extremely drug-resistant melanoma, ABC-transporters have also been reported to mediate drug sequestration in intracellular melanosomes, thereby reducing drug efficacy. Melanocyte-inducing transcription factor (MITF) is the master regulator of melanocyte and melanoma cell fate as well as the melanosomal machinery. MITF targets such as the oncogene MET, as well as MITF-mediated processes such as resistance to radiation therapy, are both known to be upregulated by GH. Therefore, we chose to query the direct effects of GH on MITF expression and activity towards conferring chemoresistance in melanoma. Here, we demonstrate that GH significantly upregulates MITF as well as the MITF target genes following treatment with multiple anticancer drug treatments such as chemotherapy, BRAF-inhibitors, as well as tyrosine-kinase inhibitors. GH action also upregulated MITF-regulated processes such as melanogenesis and tyrosinase activity. Significant elevation in MITF and MITF target gene expression was also observed in mouse B16F10 melanoma cells and xenografts in bovine GH transgenic (bGH) mice compared to wild-type littermates. Through pathway inhibitor analysis we identified that both the JAK2-STAT5 and SRC activities were critical for the observed effects. Additionally, a retrospective analysis of gene expression data from GTEx, NCI60, CCLE, and TCGA databases corroborated our observed correlation of MITF function and GH action. Therefore, we present in vitro, in vivo, and in silico evidence which strongly implicates the GH–GHR axis in inducing chemoresistance in human melanoma by driving MITF-regulated and ABC-transporter-mediated drug clearance pathways.